Welcome to the final regular installment of 60 for 60, a year-long celebration of the work of Steve Whitmire in anticipation of his 60th birthday next month. This month’s theme is live appearances by Muppet characters.Of the many strange and perplexing things that happened in conjunction with the Muppets’ 2015 series, one that I found to be among the strangest and most perplexing was this bizarre statement by Bill Prady, that it would be the first time that the Muppets were in our world. How are they not in our world? Not only have six of their eight movies been set in our world, but the Muppets make live appearances in our world all the time. And when they do, it results in some of the best and most entertaining material because they’re usually a little freer to do some ad libbing and to be themselves, insofar as the Muppets have selves, which is a deep philosophical dive that I don’t think I’m ready to take at the moment and would probably require a whole other entry even if I were.
This last weekend Steve was at Michigan Comic Con in Detroit, where he was gracious enough to give an interview for a publication based there, taking great care to emphasize the puppetry aspect of his work and that he’s not a voice person.
So of course, the entire written interview is all about voices, with the puppetry mentioned only as an afterthought.
Therefore, I recommend the accompanying YouTube video of the interview over the written version. Even though it looks like it’s been edited down somewhat, at least Steve gets to express himself in his own words:
This video is actually really exciting, though, because Steve explains a bit more about his live-stream concept with Weldon. This is information that Steve actually told me when I met him in Omaha, but I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to talk about it, so I erred on the side of caution in not mentioning it. But now he’s expressed it publicly, so I guess it’s okay for me to talk about it.
Yesterday I mentioned the existence of full panels from last year’s OCon on YouTube, but what I failed to mention was that one of them featured Sesame Street actors Roscoe Orman (aka Gordon) and Alan Muraoka. I thought about it today and realized that might be of interest, so here it is:
Also, it appears from this that OCon just doesn’t provide microphones for audience questions at all, which seems to be very unusual. Nevertheless, given how hard it is to hear the audience questions on the video, it makes me very glad that I have notes of Steve’s Q&A, although it remains to be seen how helpful they will be.
Welcome back to 60 for 60, a year-long celebration of the work of Steve Whitmire in anticipation of his 60th birthday in a couple months. The theme for this month is interviews of Steve (not his characters), and it is unique in that not all five examples are available in video form. As a matter of fact, most of them are not.
I planned out the themes for each installment of 60 for 60 ten months ago. At that time, of course, I had no idea that I would actually have met Steve by this time. A lot has changed since I planned out this project, and the plan for this month has changed more than any other in the interim as I re-evaluate interviews that I was going to use and new interviews emerge. But what hasn’t changed is my wish to celebrate Steve himself rather than just his characters, although they’re important too.
I’m not a Muppet performer, and I’m not really a puppeteer despite a brief amateur stint. So I can’t say that I really know what it’s like, but I imagine that it must be an interesting dichotomy. On the one hand, the anonymity that it affords you could be very valuable, but on the other hand, I can imagine that it would sometimes get frustrating to be part of something that is so popular and well known but only rarely get credit or recognition for it.
This month is all about that recognition.
I’m going to make two points about this episode. They may seem unrelated, even contradictory, but there is a method to my madness.
I took notes at the Q&A so I could talk about it in detail regardless of whether or not any video of it shows up online. I intend to do that in a separate post, but here I’d like to give just a brief overview and mention the parts that are relevant to the rest of my story.
Before I talk about Steve’s Q&A, I need to back up a bit to talk about one of his visitors from the morning. I mentioned her briefly in one of my other posts. She was the lady who was part of her church’s puppet troupe, and she brought along a Whatnot for him to sign (one of those ones that Disney marketed and sold for a while). She was accompanied by two teenage kids, but of the three of them it was pretty clear that she was the one most excited to meet Steve (not that the teenagers were entirely disinterested). Her Whatnot was one that they allowed new puppeteers in their group to practice on and learn with, so Steve not only signed it across the back of its head, he also wrote a short message of encouragement.
The autographed Whatnot was one of several puppets present at the Q&A. Scrubby was there with Ethan, and the lady and the baby were there with their Wembley, and there was also a guy there with a Kermit. I’m not sure if it was a fan-made Kermit or a toy that he’d bought, but they appear briefly in the following video alongside Steve (and Mitzi):
Also, it wasn’t a puppet per se, but there was someone there with a very detailed plush toy of Rizzo. I meant to ask the guy where he acquired such a thing, but then I didn’t get around to it.
This is Part 2 of a series of at least three. Click here for Part 1.
Steve’s booth was next to Gigi Edgley’s, who was also making an appearance at OCon. I had seen that that was the plan and wondered if that was going to be awkward, given her close association with Brian Henson. But I didn’t want to ask Steve if it was awkward, because I thought that that somehow might make it more awkward. However, Steve brought up the subject of her appearance, asking me if I was familiar with her work. I told him that I’d never seen Farscape but that I had watched Creature Shop Challenge. He said that he hadn’t met her before this convention and wasn’t familiar with her work, but that he’d gotten acquainted with her over the course of the convention.
Clearly there’s no bad blood there.
But first the bad news: I’m having some sort of issue with my left wrist, so trying to lay off typing for a while, which means a delay in the rest of my OCon saga.
And now the good news: Whatever was going on with my wrist last week seems to have resolved, so I can now talk a little bit about this interview, although I don’t have that much to say about it.
I really appreciate that this interviewer purposely tries to delve into the more obscure stuff. I mean, I knew that Dreamchild exists, but I’ve never heard anyone talk about it before.
However, I don’t like the fact that, when searching for stock Kermit images, they decided on a screen grab from the first Vogel!Kermit video. I imagine that it wasn’t intentional, but now it seems like Simula-Kerm is looking over Steve’s shoulder and mocking him. I wonder if Steve noticed what graphic they were using at the time.
Meanwhile, I’m continuing to scour YouTube for more videos or other content from OCon. If anyone has any or knows of any, please let me know. Thanks.
Before I get into my immersive, detailed, and probably incoherent description of hanging out with Steve Whitmire at Omaha Comic Con, I want to talk specifically about the interactions I observed between him and the fans. I was at Steve’s booth most of the day, and so I got to witness the interactions firsthand.
Steve is appearing at OCon this weekend and gave an interview to the Omaha World-Herald.
The interviewer makes Steve’s Muppet departure sound more volitional than it actually was, but he gets brownie points for not referring to Steve as a “voice actor.”
There’s also an interesting sidebar about the 20 “most powerful puppet characters in the world.” It’s kind of funny that the author makes a point of mentioning that Socrates contemplated the question in ancient Greece, but the puppet characters included all seem to be American in origin and date back only as far as the 20th century.
Today I was listening to “Just a Dream Away,” and tears came to my eyes. Admittedly a perfectly normal and understandable reaction, but I realized I didn’t know exactly why I was crying.
Why exactly does this song provoke this reaction from me? Is it purely the beauty of the song and the performance? Or is it the dramatic irony of knowing Richard Hunt’s eventual fate? Is it the inherent lovability of Mudwell the Mudbunny? Or is it the contrast between his speaking voice and his singing voice? Is it entirely due to one of these factors, or is a combination of two or more of them?
I still haven’t figured it out yet. Perhaps I never will.
Maybe it’s better not to know. Maybe if I figured it out, it would break the spell, and the song wouldn’t have the same effect on me anymore.
I’d like to thank Steve for unintentionally setting up the theme of this month’s 60 for 60 post. This month I’m examining the complementary themes of homecoming and farewell. Specifically, I’m looking at the home videos that have emerged on YouTube of the time he went back to participate in a concert at his old high school after 10 years of working with the Muppets, as well as his contributions to Jim Henson’s memorial service two years later.
I’ve never actually met Steve in person and I don’t know him well even by internet standards, so what I’m about to say is pure conjecture, but from where I’m sitting as an outside observer, it seems to me that two things keep him grounded: his close connection to his roots in Atlanta, and his loyalty to Jim Henson. Both are on prominent display in the following videos.
As I’m sure you’re all aware, yesterday was the anniversary of Jim Henson’s death. But I can never concentrate entirely on Jim Henson on May 16th, because it’s also my niece’s birthday.
At times, my niece (who just turned 8) is like a ray of sunshine, but more often, in the words of Cantus (and Dennis Lee), I find her to be a walkin’, talkin’, breathin’, ball of fire.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Approximately two months ago (wow, really?), I posted an interview that Steve gave at the Supercon in Louisville around the end of November, I believe. This week (well, technically last week) I received notification of video of a panel discussion from the same event.
Couple of noteworthy things about it:
Sometimes I see photos that people have posted on Twitter, and they’ll remind me of a Muppet song, so I make a joke about it. It’s happened three times now, which I think qualifies as a running gag, so I’d like to share my immense cleverness with you nice folks over here: